Have you ever read a romance, historical or contemporary, in which the heroine disguises herself as a boy/man? And she binds her breasts? I’m thinking of a book I love: Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. In it, the heroine binds her breasts for weeks, maybe months (I don’t recall exactly) in order to pass herself off as a boy and work in a Union hospital in New Orleans during the Civil War.
Now, Ms. Woodiwiss was and still is a hero of mine and I hate to criticize her work, but she really should have done more research on the topic of breast binding. I recently read up on it myself because I was planning to have the heroine of my upcoming book don men’s clothing and follow her love, the hero, into danger. She considers binding her breasts but instead decides to strategically pad her undergarment.
Why? Because I learned by poking around on the internet how binding, particularly with bandages, can damage soft tissues and underlying muscles if done over a prolonged period. It may cause shortness of breath, chafing, excessive sweating, rashes, back pain, bruised and even broken ribs. Unsafe binding may lead to permanent deformation of the breasts, scarring, and lung constriction.
Yowser! I sure didn’t want my heroine experiencing such unpleasantness. She has enough to deal with as it is.
Despite all the nasty side effects, breast binding has gone on historically. Wearing a corset was one way to reduce the size of breasts. There was widespread use of corsets throughout western European history up to the Victorian era. The Japanese kimono is a very elaborate form of binding. The obi (belt) goes around the lower torso, while the chest is bound by the sarashi. In the 1920s, flappers bound their chests to achieve the desired look.
I doubt American pioneer women bound their breasts. They were too busy raising children, cooking, sewing and helping their men tame the Wild West. However, a number of women disguised as men fought in the Civil War, their gender going undiscovered until they happened to be wounded or come down sick and require medical attention. They may quite possibly have bound their breasts.
There is also the famous case of Charley Parkhurst (Charlotte) who worked for years as a stagecoach driver in the West. “Loose fitting clothing hid her femininity and after a horse kicked her, an eye patch over one eye helped conceal her face. She weighed 175 pounds, could handle herself in a fistfight and drank whiskey like one of the boys.” Who knows if she bound her breasts?
HI interesting post, thank you. Even if someone knew of Charley Parkhurst's (Charlotte's) deception, I don't think they would have the guts to ask! LOLReplyDelete
Hi, Gini. I suspect you're right. From what I've read about her, she was a pretty tough cookie. :)ReplyDelete
Very interesting post, Lyn. At best breast binding would be uncomfortable.ReplyDelete
Caroline, I agree. Can't imagine how miserable it must be.Delete
Lyn, your article shows us writers how important it is to research all our ideas for a story before publishing. Ashes in the Wind was an all time favorite of mine back in the day!ReplyDelete
Too true, Cheri, and not only for historical novels. Contemporary stories can also run into issues that need careful research.Delete
I still have my very beat up copy of that book on my shelf. Every once in a while I pull it out and re-read favorite passages. Love it!